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Wherever we went, a mop or broom was sure to be in attendance close by. Much appreciated cleaning team was particularly busy in recently (and handsomely) refurbished separate nursery/reception building - all whiteness and brightness, with space for big, pristine, set piece indoor toys, recently enhanced with modish freeflow into secure outside area (complete with inevitable freeflow mud), all presided over by...

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What the school says...

Amesbury is the only co-educational prep school in Hindhead/Haslemere and a gateway to a range of senior schools. We are a family school where siblings study together. Places are offered by date of registration not competitive entry, no commitments at weekends and prep is completed at school.
Pre-nursery operates all year round. No curriculum hierarchy - children are able to find a language in which they are articulate, which builds confidence. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 1994, Mr Nigel Taylor BSc PGCE MA (50s). Previously deputy head, St Paul’s School, São Paulo. Married to Caroline. Attractively self-deprecating with lashings of charm, used to devastating effect on prospective parents who may see the strings being pulled but succumb anyway. Sensibly takes most round himself. ‘He was down on the carpet playing with my son,’ says mother, who signed up on the strength of it, despite having previously registered elsewhere.

Charm is coupled with a keen intelligence. ‘He’s quite a political animal,’ says a parent, ‘but you can’t be in that sort of position without some sort of astuteness.’ However, he’s anything but bland. Just glimpsed red socks are a subtle clue. For a whopping big one, try the mouse mat featuring him going the full Disney in the London Marathon dressed as a fetching Snow White, accessorised with wig, long dress, manly, hirsute arms and seven teachers as his dwarves.

Undoubtedly sincere, too. Read between the lines of the exceedingly well-written, occasionally poetic current prospectus (being revamped, so get in quick in case his sensitive prose is replaced by 50 shades of corporate beige) and you’ll find clues to his own experiences.

Was described in previous GSG review as ‘streetwise, not posh’. Spot on, he says. Though fits effortlessly into current surroundings (delightful room and study, complete with blazing wood fire of almost Narnian degree of cosiness; you expect Mr Tumnus to appear at any second bearing a plate of crumpets), upbringing took place against a very different backdrop.

An adopted child, he was raised on a tough Leicester council estate, attending ‘appalling’ primary school which told the most able they had ‘finished reading’ in year 4 and were cut free to fag for the head. Fairy godparent moment came via sympathetic teacher’s subtle interview coaching which ensured he made it to grammar school and thence to bigger and better things.

Sport and writing were his first serious interests. Law, too (still indulges inner Perry Mason with occasional day off to watch Crown Court trials). Logical career choice, sports journalism, hit the buffers when political machinations saw him effectively ousted from postgrad scholarship course at Columbia University. Nothing daunted, he returned to the UK and was talent spotted while helping to run a holiday coaching course at Stowe School and that, in career choice terms, was that.

Clear sighted but unresentful about deficiencies in his own education (and, with an MA in educational management as well as hands on know-how, something of an expert on how it should be done), his pet hate is a system designed for the convenience of adults at the expense of children, public mortification all too often the unintended consequence. As a result, school teems with humane initiatives, including emailed exam results which are ‘the business of the child, teacher and parents, that’s all.’ He wouldn’t post details of staff performance in common room, he says - ‘I’d have the unions in straight away’ - so why should pupils endure it?

Also of note is emphasis on making everyone feel special. Mr Taylor decided early on that it was signally unfair for the most able to have unlimited extra attention to prepare for scholarships while parents whose children required learning support wilted under the extra charges. Now, unless parental requests would involve disproportionate time or funding, they’re all included in headline fees. Similarly, subject teachers work with small groups in turn across the ability range so middle ranking as well as high and low achievers get the VIP treatment, initially in English and maths (both highly praised in most recent inspection). Undoubtedly successful and once the golden glow extends to other subjects, too, even more so.

Having passed his 20th anniversary, Mr Taylor is open about having had a touch of the career fidgets ‘a few years ago' (common knowledge to parents as well), but having looked round, has decided this is the place for him. He’d be missed if he went. To misquote: ‘No head is a hero to his pupils’. Not that this one would want to be. ‘My dad says you need adults to treat children as humans and he does,’ says a pupil.

Entrance

Through registration plus visit - not a formal assessment but the opportunity for child and school to get acquainted, pupils accepted until spaces filled. Scholarships (academic, tennis and expressive arts) available years 3 to 7 for those ‘head and shoulders above other very talented children’; worth applying for, with awards worth up to 50 per cent of the fees.

Nursery flexibility a given, with full days for those who need them (complete with freshly cooked hot meals, served in nursery classrooms; reception eat in dining hall, served like year 1 and 2 pupils at the table) and though school will suggest at least two consecutive sessions a week, there’s no minimum nursery stay, with staff on hand to plug gaps at relatively short notice if there’s a sudden bulge in numbers, now recovering after a lean patch. Will not adopt government suggestions to ease staffing ratios but up entry qualifications by way of compensation. ‘Stupid,’ says nursery head. ‘It doesn’t matter how well qualified you are, you’re still only one person.’

Exit

Fall out after year 6, formerly a bit of an issue for the school (as elsewhere), has been largely contained (‘resolved’ – more girls staying on than leaving) helped by head’s decision to stem school gate chatter by bringing the debate back into school and proselytise the benefits of staying to the end. Pupils, in no doubt as to the benefits, all happily cited kudos-factor of being top in the pecking order. Wide range of destinations, day including Royal Grammar, Portsmouth Grammar, St Catherine's Bramley, Tormead, Guildford High, Prior's Field; boarding including Bedales, Bradfield, Brighton College, Bryanston, Canford, Charterhouse, Harrow, Marlborough, Millfield, Rugby, Winchester and Wellington.

Our view

One of a cluster of preps in this well-to-do area of Surrey, now more primrose path than rat run following opening of Hindhead tunnel - ‘Other schools build a new sports hall, we spend millions on an underpass,’ jokes head - school is considered a breath of fresh air by its supporters, who extol approach as trad with a twist.

On the surface, it oozes convention, second occupants of Lutyens’ only purpose-built school, having moved here in 1917 from Bickley in Kent (was originally founded in 1870 in Redhill) to swap air raids for fresh air. Designed like a scaled down Hollywood set, main building features windows at two-thirds height, with a baby grand entrance and chapel, added 1938, which potentially reduces a wrath-filled God to a Wendy house-sized deity - a much more comforting notion to the young. Even the reception signs, so tiny that this reviewer walked past them twice, may have been boil-washed one too many times.

Some areas, a bit factory second here and there on date of visit, have already been improved, with sagging maintenance shed in the grounds subsequently demolished and staff treated to what head terms a ‘luxurious’ common room.

There has also been considerable smartening up: blue-canopied entrances on more modern buildings including super new visual and performing arts centre, an attractive and well-equipped example of the genre, as well as impressive giant, echoing sports hall - a yodeller’s dream - a new dance studio, refurbished science department and general pepping up of floor surfaces and corridors.

Also notable for exceptional cleanliness. Wherever we went, a mop or broom was sure to be in attendance close by. Much appreciated cleaning team was particularly busy in recently (and handsomely) refurbished separate nursery/reception building - all whiteness and brightness, with space for big, pristine, set piece indoor toys, recently enhanced with modish free flow into secure outside area (complete with inevitable free flow mud), all presided over by caring, multi-tasking staff (capable of spotting child in need of TLC while extolling multiple uses of home-made Play-doh).

While parents appreciate surroundings, heading praise list (which is extensive) is school’s philosophy - ‘holistic’ says one. ‘They balance the academic side with lots of other things so that all the children can find a way of expressing themselves.’ Approach can manifest itself in an absence of surface polish: hair that little bit longer than the norm; uniform (traditional skirts for girls, boys in viyella shirts with dress down brown guernseys for all - ‘only itchy with short sleeves’ says plucky pupil) occasionally lacking in parade gloss finish; productions and matches feature all comers.

We’d written originally that these were in consequence ‘a tad rougher round the edges’ based on parent feedback. ‘Inaccurate’ says head. ‘We are rougher round the edges on a day to day basis, hair is sometimes longer. However, we are neurotic about getting it absolutely right on match days.’ Ditto chapel choir and school plays, which are ‘super professional.’ The trick, he says, ‘is to be more relaxed until the moment when it matters and then we are absolutely spot on.’

There’s also convention where it matters - ‘very strict on how they speak to the teachers, so not liberal in that respect,’ said a parent and no shortage of competition. But while two houses, carefully matched for ability, are expected to slug it out for supremacy during the year, what shines through is wrap-round encouragement for everyone, not just the most able, with the slightest flicker of talent breathed into a living flame.

Upbeat approach embraces learning needs, catering for rather more than advertised. One parent who packed tissues before meeting teachers, expecting to discuss behaviour issues, ended up being overwhelmed by praise.

Dyslexia, official speciality, had own separate centre until around four years ago. A new head of learning support, also qualified to carry out assessments, has now been appointed and most support is now provided in class. Considerable flexibility, however. ‘If pupils need somebody physically sitting alongside them in the lesson to support them, that’s what we’ll do - focus is not on one size fits all: it’s the right programme for the right child,’ says head of English.

Sets the tone for excellent pastoral care, in and out of lesson time, from twinkly matron, popular with the walking wounded and others - ‘we have our regulars’ - to staff mingling with pupils for ‘usually good and never awful’ lunches in delightful blue-painted dining hall, dominated by bison’s head (which lends its name to major house trophy, though history and significance remain an apparent mystery to all).

Register ensures that everyone eats (older pupils can choose when) though latecomers have to negotiate bottlenecks either side of diddy double doors as two-way queues of well-nourished, 21st century children jostle for supremacy, accompanied by fairly vigorous shoving by all.

It’s the only sign of anything other than cordial pupil relationships, with friendships, seen as a huge strength, crossing between year groups, welcome sense of ‘freedom to talk,’ says pupil and little in the way of conflict. One pupil who had experienced bullying in previous school felt ‘there’s just not the space for bullies. If you did it, you’d find yourself on your own.’ Bonds strengthened by taster boarding week for everyone in years 5 to 8, groups of 10 boys or girls at a time – Mallory Towers lite, big on the hot chocolate with marshmallows element.

Academically, it’s emphatically not a hothouse, though parents feel that standards are rising across the board, helped by emphasis on focus group teaching and calm but engaging class lessons notable for levels of discussion (lots of confident participation through the age ranges, reception children working on ‘ay’ sounds as a group; year 3 children engaged in quick fire mental maths and a school-wide absence of furrowed brows).

English and maths are excellent, remaining subjects being brought into line, recent staff additions generally reckoned to be plugging previous gaps (Latin and French now much improved, felt one mother). Humanities, headed by hugely popular teacher (has starring role in whole school charity remake of Pixie Lott hit, worth three minutes of anyone’s time on Youtube) who is also very dashing, notable for dynamic text book light, tech-heavy approach to geography (we enjoyed contrast with low tech lunchtime message system – communicated in chalk, on a blackboard).

Plenty of extras on offer in the form of clubs, too, and if more pupils hadn’t taken up Mandarin, it was only, they said, because there was so much else going on, with many ecstatic about performing arts, much open to all and sweeping plentiful numbers of boys as well as girls into their orbit.

Music embraces everything from formal chapel choir to semi-secret bands formed each year, strutting stuff at annual concert. There’s plentiful dance and drama including ambitious takes on Shakespeare (a swinging 60s Comedy of Errors and 1920s gangland style Hamlet amongst them) while inaugural action-packed arts week successful but so energy and resource sapping, hoovering up just about everyone, staff and pupils, into its maw, that likely to become every other year wonder.

While arts feature large in pupils’ career horizons, sports almost as popular. Aspirations and confidence stem, think pupils, from school’s desire to ‘want you to like sport.’ Taken seriously (‘steely’ is head’s description of sports teams in prospectus), as so it should be, with four grass pitches, one Astroturf and ‘very fancy’ sports hall, foyer decorated with motivational images of assorted sports, to do them in. No swimming pool and wouldn’t be on pupils’ wish list in any case. ‘It would get cold and crowded and you’d want to get out,’ said one, sensibly. Tennis, a big thing, is now offered from nursery, two ping pong tables installed primarily for year 7s and 8s ‘and other years when they’re away or not using them’ also hitting the spot. But, just as school prizes aren’t just awarded to ‘the obvious people but the ones with the right attitude,’ say pupils, team selection favours the also rans as well as the stars. It’s a brave strategy, given level of local opposition, main rival prompting something close to pupil bloodlust when you quiz them.

All in all, adds up to an atmosphere that substantiates the blurb. Many a school may claim to be ‘academically rigorous’. Not all would also make such a virtue out of also being ‘relaxed’ (Mr Taylor’s prospectus wording). This one does. Parents in search of an education which will deliver confident children who see their futures in terms of unlimited options rather than curtailed ambitions - ‘I’d like to be an international sportsman, I just don’t know which sport yet,’ said one - would be well advised to pay a visit.

Special Education Needs

The school currently has three full time special needs specialists. The primary area of specialism is in dyslexic support. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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